427. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [mid-August 1799]

427. Robert Southey to Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, [mid-August 1799] ⁠* 

My dear Wynn

Since my last I have endured a perpetual state of uneasiness on account of Ediths health. you know we purposed visiting Devonshire. for some time previous to our departure she had been exceedingly unwell, – it was thought the journey would benefit her & we set out in much hope, fortified with advice & a stock of medecines. We got to Minehead, where I intended to pass a fortnight. during the whole of that period she was so exceedingly ill as to make me think it expedient to return. she however slowly amended. Mrs Coleridge came to her & Edith returned with her, a distance of but a few miles, if she amended we could proceed from thence – if not we should be nearer Bristol. I went westwards, for much confinement & little sleep had brought back my old evil symptoms with greater violence than ever. on my return I find her still slowly amending.

In these circumstances & under this state of mind you will see how impossible it is that I should have done anything. I only played with the pen I took up – & if a book was open before me read the words & scarcely affixed to them any meaning.

My walk has not perceptibly benefited me – it was from Minehead down the North coast of Somersetshire to Ilfracombe & round by Barnstable Tiverton & Taunton. [1]  Lymouth a little village on the coast is the most interesting place I have yet seen in this country. the roads to it on all sides are unpassable by a carriage & it is of course little known. imagine two mountain streams each running down a dell among crags like a long waterfall – the one dell richly wooded, the other winding among bare & stony hills. a fine eminence rises between these dells & where the two streams meet Lymouth stands – they flow into the channel immediately at their junction & of course the roar of the sea forms one sounds with the dashing of the rivers. even without the sea this place would be one of the most interesting I ever saw. ascending half a mile from hence up a road serpentinely perpendicular almost you turn into the Valley of Stones – a miraculous place. the range of hills here next the sea are completely stripped of their soil & only the bones of the earth left – stone upon stone. Its origin I could not conjecture. water if it had overwhelmed it must have inundated all the lower lands in the country, for these are very high – & yet the hills on the other side the Valley – not an arrows flight distant are cloathed with herbage. a water spout perhaps – but I am no naturalist to my shame, & so endeavoured to find out a poetic origin for it. was it the work of our aboriginal giants? no – for Goemagog one of the hugest was not so big but Corineus could carry him – ergo no Giants could have been large-limbd enough. [2]  I conceive therefore to be the remains of some work erected by the Devils who came to intrigue with the fifty daughters of Diocletian [3]  – for I can trace no other inhabitants of our island who possessed power enough for the work.

here I past some hours, alone, on the summit of the highest point two stones inclining on each other form a portal. in this I lay down – a little platform of turf lay level with me about two yards long – & then the eye fell upon the sea – a tremendous depth of precipice. you can hardly imagine the feeling it gave me to close my eyes a minute – & then open them upon the scene.

direct to Cottles still – & your letters will find me somewhere. I wish you well to Berlin – anywhere – rather than to Ireland.

yrs affectionately

R Southey.


* Address: To/ C W Williams Wynn Esqr/ Chester Circuit
Endorsement: Aug/ 99
MS: National Library of Wales, MS 4811D. ALS; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), I, pp. 197–198.
Dating note: Internal evidence suggests this letter was written after Southey’s tour of the north Somerset coast in early August 1799, but before his visit to Nether Stowey later in the month. BACK

[1] For Southey’s account of his tour, Common-Place Book, ed. John Wood Warter, 4 series (London, 1849–1850), IV, pp. 520–522. BACK

[2] Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100–1155; DNB), Historia Regum Britanniae states Corineus (or Corin) was a companion of Brutus, who was allotted Cornwall to rule. He defeated the giant Goemagot in a wrestling match and threw his body into the sea. BACK

[3] An alternative legend suggested that the wicked thirty-three daughters of Diocletian, King of Syria, murdered their husbands. The King set them adrift and they washed up in Britain, where they inter-bred with devils and gave birth to giants and monsters; see John Milton (1608–1674; DNB), ‘History of Britain’, The Works of John Milton, Historical, Political, and Miscellaneous. ... To Which is Prefixed, An Account of His Life and Writings, 2 vols (London, 1753), II, pp. 2–3. BACK

People mentioned

Fricker, Edith (1774–1837) (mentioned 2 times)
Fricker, Sarah (1770–1845) (mentioned 1 time)

Places mentioned

Cottles (mentioned 1 time)